Celebrate National Holidays with a Unique Virgin Islands Flare

            Holidays in the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) feature island music, traditional Caribbean dancing, and foods mixing West-Indian and Caribbean flavors. Being a United States territory, the USVI celebrates all of the national holidays Americans are familiar with but with a distinct flare. There are also many additional local holidays that provide a taste of USVI history and culture, the most popular among them being the various Carnival celebrations that occur throughout the territory.

Here is a list of the top holidays and recipes that are uniquely USVI.

Three Kings’ Day (January 6)

Three Kings’ Day is a widely celebrated holiday across the USVI, especially among Virgin Islanders with Latin American background wishing to celebrate and maintain their heritage and culture. The annual holiday, also known as Epiphany, is the 12th day after Christmas, marking the end of the holiday period with various celebrations, gift exchanges and dinner feasts.

Transfer Day (March 31): Red Grout

Transfer Day is a truly historic celebration of the day in 1917 that the United States officially purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark. Each year, the territory marks the anniversary by symbolically lowering the Danish flag and raising the stars and stripes. The holiday features ceremonies and opportunities to learn about and appreciate the territory’s Danish history. One of the highlights of Transfer Day is the tradition of serving a tapioca dessert called Red Grout that was introduced by the Danish. Here is the recipe:

2 pints guavas with skins and seeds
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup quick cooking tapioca
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Dash of mace
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of cinnamon

Wash fruit. Peel and cut up guava. Place in pan with 1 ½ cups water. Simmer covered for 20 minutes. Strain. Save shells for later use. Measure liquid, adding enough water to make 2 ½ cups of liquid. Add sugar, salt and bring to a boil. Stir constantly. Mix tapioca in ½ cup of water and add slowly along with spices. Bring to a boil once more, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat when tapioca grains are clear. Add vanilla essence. Pour into a ceramic container or individual ramekins. Serve with heavy cream.

St. Thomas Carnival (April)

St. Thomas proudly presents one of the largest Carnival celebrations in the entire Caribbean. The post-Easter, month-long event is ripe with activities including parades, food fairs and a large Carnival village where the music and dancing never stops. When the event wraps up at the end of April, locals won’t have to wait long for another Carnival celebration. See below for a description of St. John’s own lavish version of Carnival – St. John Festival.

St. John Festival (June-July 4)

St. John’s version of Carnival, the St. John Festival, is a month-long celebration that features musical performances, parades, food fair and theme park rides – all happening in the Cruz Bay area of the Island. St. John Festival runs through July 4th, which is considered the most popular night of the festival, complete with fireworks, steel pans, baton twirlers, dancers, floats, mocko jumbies and diverse food and beverage offerings. St. John Festival also features an event called J’ouvert – a dusk-until-dawn parade across the island.

Emancipation Day (July 3)

            Emancipation Day is one of the most important anniversaries for Virgin Islanders as it honors the day in 1848 when all slaves in St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John were set free.  The territory celebrates the progressive move forward with a wide range of exciting events. Highlights include the annual 15-mile Fort to Fort Walk to Freedom in St. Croix and the Emancipation Day Celebration at Emancipation Garden in St. Thomas. There are also historical presentations and performances by musicians and dancers throughout the territory.

Columbus Day: Virgin Islands-Puerto Rico Friendship Day (Second Monday in October)

Since Christopher Columbus landed on St. Croix in 1493, seven flags have flown over St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. Owing to the rich Hispanic influence and abundance of Puerto Ricans who migrated to St. Croix in the 1960s, the USVI honors Columbus Day with their own special holiday. V.I.-P.R. Friendship Day is celebrated during Hispanic Heritage Month. Locals have the entire first half of October to attend celebratory activities, including a sunset jazz concert, a family-fun day, dance and craft workshops, cock-fighting demonstrations, a paso fino horse presentation and a cultural exchange event.

Liberty Day (November 1)

This USVI holiday honors the legacy of labor leader David Hamilton Jackson and the establishment of free press and assembly in what was then the Danish West Indies during the late 19th century. Jackson, who was a St. Croix native, fought hard for the removal of strict censorship that had been in place in the islands since 1779 of which he was successful. Virgin Islanders honor Jackson and his efforts with ceremonies featuring  speeches by public officials. The holiday is also known as Bull and Bread Day owing to the first issue of David Hamilton Jackson’s newspaper, The Herald was published on that day. To fete this historic occasion, a bull was slaughtered with beef and bread were served to the community. Now, roast beef and bread with gravy are traditionally served on Liberty Day every year in the USVI.

Thanksgiving Day Potato Stuffing (November 28)

Thanksgiving is as popular in the USVI as it is on the mainland, but the Territory offers one unique Thanksgiving dish that always leaves mouths watering. A unique take on traditional potato stuffing can be served with every entrée, making it perfect for a Thanksgiving feast in paradise. Here is the recipe:

6 large white potatoes
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 small onion, minced
¼ cup sugar
2 stalks celery
1 medium green bell pepper, minced
1 teaspoon hot pepper, minced
¾ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup raisins
3 sprigs parsley
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons thyme, chopped

Peel and cut potatoes and boil in salted water. When tender, drain water and mash. Add cooking oil to a pan and sauté raisins, onion, green pepper and celery until translucent. Add pepper and sugar. Pour this mixture, in batches, into mashed potatoes. Some oil may remain which can be discarded. Spoon stuffing into a greased baking pan and bake in 350-degree oven for about 25 minutes.

Christmas: The Crucian Christmas Festival (December-January)

Christmas is all about tradition and St. Croix’s Christmas tradition is called the Crucian Christmas Festival, a month-long event similar to St. Thomas’ and St. John’s versions of Carnival. Events include nightly concerts, pageants for Carnival royalty and fairs that showcase local crafts, foods and beverages. Event highlights include Just Mas!, an all-day music festival in downtown Christiansted that made its Crucian Christmas Festival debut last year, and the Children’s Parade and Adult’s Parade, both of which happen at the end of the festival in early January.